Four Easy Bulb Planters to Make Now

November 8, 2012 | By | Comments (9)
Bulb Planters

Tulips, hyacinths, and grape hyacinths on Grumpy’s back porch. Photo by Steve Bender.

Twenty minutes of work right now can turn into one incredible show next spring. All you need are the right bulbs, the right pots, the right soil, and step-by-step instructions from Grumpy.

Step 1 — Buy or order bulbs now. Don’t wait! That’s because garden centers will soon replace their bulb displays with Christmas displays and mail-order nurseries will sell out.

Daffodils (the best overall bulbs for the South) work great, but they come in only two basic colors, white and yellow. I wanted more punch and variety this time, so I chose tulips, hyacinths, and grape hyacinths (Muscari). To get them to bloom together, I chose early-blooming types that are known for being easy to force into bloom indoors (even though that’s not what I did here). Here’s the bulb list:

1. Hyacinth ‘Blue Jacket’ — deep blue and fragrant
2. Hyacinth ‘L’Innocence’ — white and fragrant
3. Tulip ‘Apeldoorn’ — cherry red with black heart
4. Tulip ‘Negrita’ — striking purple
5. Tulip ‘Bestseller’ — nice salmon
6. Grape hyacinth ‘Valerie Finnis’ — light blue

Step 2 — Buy some nice pots for the bulbs to go in. You can opt for pots of cast stone, iron, or concrete if you want to impress snooty neighbors. But the first time you try to lift or move one around, you’ll probably pop your spleen. No, go for lightweight fiberglass pots. It’s amazing how much they look like actual terra-cotta, stone, or concrete, but they’re much cheaper. And a big ant could carry one on his head.

Those are all fiberglass pots above with three about 16 inches wide at the top and the saucer planter about 30 inches. You could fill them with a lot of potting soil, but bulbs only need about 6 inches to grow in. So that brings us to…

Potting Mix

Photo by Fafard.

Step 3 — Buy good quality, name-brand potting soil for your containers, such as Fafard Professional Potting Mix or Miracle-Gro Potting Mix. DO NOT USE GARDEN SOIL, TOP SOIL, PEAT HUMUS, or COW MANURE. These products are too heavy and drain too slowly. If they get wet, your pot will weigh the same as a neutron star. But instead of filling the pots with potting mix….

Step 4 — Fill all tall pots (not the saucer) halfway up with either pine cones or biodegradable packing peanuts. Why? You’ll only need half as much potting mix and your pots will be lighter. Then fill the pots with potting mix to within an inch or so of the rim.

Step 5 — For the best show, plant lots of bulbs. Remember, these aren’t permanent bulb plantings. Place as many bulbs as you possibly can across the soil surface, leaving no space between them. Then nestle each into the potting mix, so that the top of each bulb is just a hair below the surface. Water each container thoroughly and then finish off the top with an inch of mulch. Grumpy likes to use pine bark mini-nuggets.

Step 6 — Leave the planters outside in winter. The more cold the bulbs get, the better they’ll bloom. In the South, they’ll actually bloom better than bulbs in the ground, because cold air can reach all the soil they’re in.

Three Great Mail-Order Sources for Bulbs Screened & Approved by Grumpy

Brent & Becky’s Bulbs
John Scheepers
Old House Gardens


  1. Steve Bender

    Great idea! That’s exactly what Grumpy would do.

    December 13, 2012 at 3:03 pm
  2. Patty

    We have a million squirrels that would dig my lily and tulip bulbs up in about a second after planting – I use chicken wire stretched across pots – I just mulch the pots and put the chicken wire over the top and scrunch it tight around the lip – the first year I removed the wire when the bulbs broke the soil – those squirrels dug them up within two days – so now, I leave the wire on. The lilies and tulips grow right up through the wire just fine – I have 8 huge pots of tulips just waiting for spring – I can’t wait!!!!

    December 8, 2012 at 8:15 am
  3. Steve Bender

    I would say a minimum of 6 inches, but you can add more if you want.

    Mary H.,
    Well, you could make a trip to the local Guns & Ammo store! But an easy way to keep squirrels out of bulb planters is to cover the tops with wire or screen. Remove the wire or screen when the bulbs start coming up.

    November 15, 2012 at 9:31 am
  4. Mary H.

    Went directly to BigBoxHomeImprovementGardenDept and spent $45 on supplies. Went home and planted as directed. 24 hrs. later, the mulch & bulbs are on the ground, and have been replaced by buried acorns. Thanks, Ms. Squirrel!

    Now what?

    November 12, 2012 at 2:43 pm
  5. Mike Mallory

    Hey Steve, I’m new at container gardening,Like your blog here and want to use you as my adviser as I begin to learn. I hope you will do more articles on it and please be as detailed as possible as I’m not the brightest bulb in the pot. To begin with, how many inches of soil do I need between the pine cones an the top of the pot to do the Tulips.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:07 am
  6. Steve Bender

    Take a look at

    If you refrigerate your tulip bulbs for 8 weeks prior to planting, they will bloom just fine for you. This is a good idea for all gardeners in Zone 8 and higher.

    November 9, 2012 at 2:07 pm
  7. stacyblaise

    Reblogged this on stacyblaise.

    November 9, 2012 at 8:32 am
  8. JDC

    I’m afraid to get my hopes up about growing tulips in North Florida (used to be 8b, now zone 9). I’ve grown narcissus successfully; does this mean I can grow tulips, too? Are you toying with my emotions?

    November 9, 2012 at 8:17 am
  9. Jill

    Hey Grumpy,
    I’m wondering where to find fiberglass pots? I’ve only seen the usual plastic, terra-cotta,concrete, and glazed ceramic. Most of the garden centers in my area don’t carry pots, most of my gardening supplies are from Lowes, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Target, etc. Thanks for the great info! I’m going to try the pine cones.

    November 9, 2012 at 12:52 am

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